Council – October 15, 2023

We had relatively quick and strangely uplifting Council meeting on Monday. Not sure what changed the energy in the room, but it went well and we had a full agenda that started with a couple of Information Reports pulled for discussion:

Train Whistle Cessation – Q3 Update
This is our regular quarterly report for information on train whistle cessation programs in the City. Though the technical group continues to advance work, the only real update is some identified challenges on the Spruce Street crossing that staff are working on.

Correspondence dated September 18, 2023 regarding Burnaby New Westminster Task Force on Sexually Exploited and At-Risk Youth – Invitation for Council member to join the Task Force
We have been invited by Burnaby to join a taskforce to address this risk in our community, with a suggestion that one member of our Council join. Councillor Henderson has experience working in this field, an interest in helping vulnerable youth, and a positive working relationship with Councillor Santiago (who sent the invite from Burnaby) and was nominated by Council to represent us on that task force.

We had one Report for Action:

ON TABLE Council Code of Conduct Bylaw No. 8408, 2023
This was a presentation on the work done for the Code of Conduct, and a proposal to bring next readings to the empowering Bylaw, but a clerical error meant the heading was not included in the Council Agenda that went out on the City’s website (though, notably, all of Council were provided the report last week). To be real sticklers, adding it to the agenda after the Agenda has been Adopted needed a unanimous motion of Council, but unfortunately some on Council chose to not approve its addition for reasons that were not really made clear. So this important work to improve accountability for our Council will be delayed until we can arrange another Council meeting where external legal counsel will be available.

We then moved the following items On Consent

Amendments to 2023 Schedule and Proposed 2024 Schedule of Council Meetings
As previously discussed, we are looking at a new Workshop model to replace some Council Task Forces we had over the previous couple of terms. This hopes to provide more opportunities for deeper discussions of topics aligned with the Strategic Priority Plan, and to make for more efficient Council Meetings as more longer-form deliberation and discussion can occur in workshop with staff present. This does mean more meetings for most of Council. It looks worse than it is, as many of these new meetings are replacing task force meetings that did not have the power of Council, but it is still a more full calendar. So update your schedules folks!

Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption Request: 1031 Quebec Street, New Westminster – Metro Vancouver Annacis Water Supply Tunnel, Fraser River Crossing
You may have noticed a construction site in the Lower 12th area at the foot of the hill. Metro Vancouver is burrowing tunnel from Surrey to New West into which will be placed a significant new water supply pipeline to serve expanding communities South of the Fraser. This work started late and is behind schedule, so the Construction Noise Bylaw extension needs to be extended. Most of the heavy work is happening on the surrey side and by the Tunnel Boring Machine underground, and we have not had a spate of complaints related to the work so far, so Council is permitting this extension.

Construction Noise Bylaw Exemption Request: Columbia Street at 8th Street (New Westminster SkyTrain Station)
I expect this application is going to result in more complaints, but it is hard to determine an alternative than to allow this work to occur outside of permitted hours. The Columbia Street Skytrain platforms need to be expanded to accommodate longer trains and to assure the safety of passenger on what has become one of the busiest platforms on the original Expo Line. Much of this work cannot occur during operational hours of Skytrain for a variety of safety and function reasons.

Response to February 6, 2023 Special City Council Motion for Utilities Commission Open Minutes Extracts regarding the Advance Metering Infrastructure Project
This is a report for information based on a request made at Council to collate older minutes of the Electrical Utility Commission about the AMI program. Share and enjoy.

Uptown Business Association Business Improvement Association Renewal: 2024 – 2028
BIAs exist under Provincial legislation, specifically Section 215 of the Community Charter. In short, the City collects extra tax from businesses within the BIA area, and turns that tax revenue over to the BIA to do BIA things – mostly street and public space improvements, events and promotion of the commercial neighbourhood for the benefit of their members. The agreement that empowers this needs to be updated every five years, and a new tax rate set based on what the BIA members want to charge themselves. We are starting that process for the Uptown BIA as their existing agreement ends at the end of the year.

The following items were Removed from Consent for discussion:

Arts, Culture and Economic Development Advisory Committee – Draft Terms of Reference
The Economic Development Committee is being somewhat updated, partly as the Retail Strategy and Arts Strategy recognized the economic development impacts of investment in the Arts and Culture, and many of the organizations involved in Arts and Culture and Economic development in the city overlap. This is the updated Terms of Reference to reflect that change, and we will start recruiting community members and representatives from partner organizations. Council has a good discussion with staff around how this new Committee will be structured.

Support for TransLink’s Bus Rapid Transit Action Plan
The Access for Everyone plan from the Mayor’s Council for the future growth of TransLink transit service leans heavily on new bus infrastructure, including Bus Rapid Transit. BRT is a hybrid between light rail which uses roads and tires instead of rails, but moves near the same capacity of people though dedicated lanes, station-type boarding, and limited stop routes. This service serves as backbone transit service in many jurisdictions, form Asia to Europe and Latin America, but is relatively uncommon in North America (though several faux-BRT systems are touted in places like Boston and New York that are really just TransLink B-Line type service).

Though all mayors at Mayors Council have fully endorsed this plan, staff are now working through prioritization of routes for earlier implementation, and one of the factors will be the willingness of municipalities to endorse BRT on their roads. We don’t want to end up in a West Vancouver B-Line situation where advanced transit service is turned down by a local government, stalling implementation for other municipalities, so TransLink is asking for statements like this for endorsement of the lines that impact communities.

This doesn’t mean the 22nd-to-Marine BRT will be first. There are other factors such as buildability, cost, integration with the existing system, and projected ridership needs that will go in to the mix of prioritizing routes. I also note that TransLink currently has no money to deliver even the first BRT line, and conversations with senior government continue. Let your MLA and MP know!

Update on Council Motion Regarding “The Right Person, the Right Time, The Right Place”
Back in June, a group of representatives from Century House delegated to Council asking for the City to implement and advocate towards the recommendations of a report arising from work that the CHA and United Way had previously done. Council moved to support this call, and this report outlines what progress we have already made on the recommendations directed at Local Government, and speaks to a plan to evaluate and potentially address, the others, including senior government advocacy towards the things that are not in our jurisdiction.

Some of these actions will require partnerships and longer-term planning, and there may be some significant work plan and cost implications if we go it alone, so this proposal is to take those items back to the Century House Association, and determine priority and partnership potentials before we commit.

Westminster Pier Park Fire Site – Next Steps
Alas, most of us can remember the Pier Park fire of 2020, when we lost 2 acres of public park space. The clean up after was very complicated – old asphalt and creosote treated wood burned over sensitive river habitat, meaning the environmental remediation of those soils and sediments cost the City millions. Fortunately, we were insured, though “replacement value” is a difficult thing to determine with a 100-year-old pier built of materials that are no longer available, and not exactly replaceable under current environmental, seismic, and building codes. This required a marine engineer and negotiations with our insurer.

We have settled on $30M, including $10M that has already been provided and was mostly used to fund the cleanup and remediation work. When all is said and done, the City will have about $22M to start working on the replacement plan. Now we need to start planning what the community wants to put in the place, because exactly what was there is probably not what the community wants, and the Park will be very different when the (coincidentally) 2 acres of new space opens next year on the west side of Pier Park as the Bosa project is completed.

This report outlines the next steps in envisioning the replacement. As any site on the shore of the Fraser River is of incredible historic importance to First Nations, we are going to first connect with host nations and discuss what they would envision for this space. We are also going to go out to the community to engage on their vision or dreams for this place. We are also going to start developing a funding strategy in anticipation that we will need more than $22M to build the community’s vision, and senior government partners will want to participate in a city- and region-defining project.

This is going to be a big thing, an important conversation in the community, so stay tuned

We then read some Bylaws, including adoption of the following:

Permissive Tax Exemption Bylaw No. 8419, 2023
Certain properties within New Westminster such as places of worship, hospitals, and those with charitable/ philanthropic uses are eligible for an exemption from property taxes. This bylaw lists the properties exempted in 2024, and it was Adopted by Council.

Zoning Amendment Bylaw (376 Keary Street) No. 8404, 2023
This bylaw that rezones a property in Sapperton to permit a duplex was adopted by Council.

And that was about it for business. Except that we also had an afternoon Workshop on the 2024 Capital Budget that is worth watching here, and a great presentation in the evening meeting from the Canadian Mental Health Association on the PACT program first year success. Maybe this is what lifted our spirits.

Year one

It has been an intense fall in the work/life balance front, and I almost forgot that I should probably mark the date on the calendar – one year since the election of 2022.

I haven’t had a chance to sit down and think about what “one year” means. I often feel dates like this are arbitrary, and so much of the important work we do in the City is incremental and based on long-term and system thinking that it doesn’t lend itself to tracking arbitrary dates. I also recognize years-in-review suit the listicle thinking of modern communications. However, I am instead going to do a bit of public self-reflection instead of talking about accomplishments that I might share with my incredible Council Team and the staff of the City. Maybe those will come in a follow-up.

Yesterday I spent several hours at the New West Fire and Rescue Open House at Glenbrook Fire Hall. Doing what I occasionally do – sitting in a booth taking questions from everyday folks, hearing concerns and talking about the City and the work of Council. One of the most common questions (after “are you really the Mayor!?”) is something around the theme: “What’s it like to be Mayor?” or “Is it what your expected?” or “How are you enjoying it?”

I usually quip an answer around “I’m experiencing it, that’s for sure” (chuckle), because it is hard to describe what something is like when you are so immersed in it, and it is hard to remember what I expected before I got here. The line of questioning does inspire some thoughts that are probably appropriate to go through after year one and it almost looks like a listicle.

First off, it is busy (and busy is rarely a good thing).

An interesting shift from time on Council to this job is how more all-encompassing this job is, and I thought Council was intense. The challenge is when things are coming at you in a constant stream, it is hard to know what actually needs current attention and what needs to be ignored – or what you can afford to ignore. If you are always reacting to what just arrived, you never have the time to do any long-term planning, or to concentrate on a single thing for a long enough period of time. The risk is you slip into a mode where you are reacting instead of thinking or planning.

There are many ways this manifests. I cannot possibly reply to every email I get, and can only reply to very few in timely and meaningful ways. I like replying to emails, and feel most people deserve a thoughtful response to their concern if they took the time to write. But there is only so much thoughtful time in a day. This is why I simply don’t have time to write blogs like I used to. I committed to the Council reports, but the longer discussions about bigger topics are just too hard to take the time to sit down and write.

As for the constant small decision making, it can get tiring, mostly because of the vast array of topics the City’s work touches. It seems every decision requires a shift in gears – from discussing sewer grants to community consultation scheduling to housing advocacy to discussing sidewalk repairs to flag raising events or parking rules – you never know what you will be asked next. It is exciting and dynamic, but at the end of the day, it is exhausting.

Secondly, it is at times emotionally difficult.

Bad news is all around us; global bad news and local bad news. Some I have no control over, while some are right in front of me. There is also some over which I have limited control, but have a responsibility to address. There are no two ways about it, some people in our community are suffering. Some lack a home; some lack support for their health care needs; some lack resources to feed and fully care for their family. These residents are not abstractions, they are people I see every day and talk to when walking around the City. The idea that I carry a Naloxone kit in my walks should be terrifying, but instead it is banal.

I was pointed to a radio show last week where people in my community with power and voice used those privileges to contribute to the stigma thrust upon the most vulnerable members of this community. Conflating not having a home or living with an addiction with criminality. Dehumanizing the people who most need help in our community. Framing them as the problem and propagating untruthful messages about the actual problem while providing no solutions. This both angers and saddens me, and I struggle to find a positive response, because the dehumanization is the entire point of that narrative. Separating community into “us” and “them” gives people reason to not care about their neighbours and makes it harder to build support for and do the work we need to do, stops us from acting with the optimism and hope we need to make a positive difference in our community.

Fortunately, it is also rewarding.

There are algorithms culturing negative narratives in social media and shock radio, but talking to people in the community gives such a different impression of what this community is and aspires to be. I sit at the Ask Pat booth or run into people on the Quayside or at the Brewery, and people love New West. Overwhelmingly, people appreciate the work the City is doing during challenging times, love our spaces and places, and like the balance we strike in NewWest. There is optimism.

This is shown by the growing number of young families settling here, by the way people show up when events occur, and by how engaged folks are at community meetings like last week on the 22nd Street Plan. It also shows up in the public surveys and polling where we find (for example) that the vast majority of New West residents feel safe in this community, and appreciate the way we find balance in our annual budgets.

When people come to me and say “thanks”, be it for the support their organization received or because they had a good experience at City Hall or just because they got their question asked at the booth, it is nice to be able to be at the receiving end of gratitude for the work that many, many people do together.

And it is Uplifting.

I have said it so many times over the last year, this community is about connections. There are so many people and organizations doing good work in this community to lift their neighbours, it is hard not to have a full heart. Sports clubs, social services, arts groups, businesses and non-profits, collections of caring neighbours, and staff in the city doing the everyday work of keeping the community moving forward.

This Friday after the radio made me grumpy, I attended the New Westminster Homelessness Coalition Community Party, where there was food, music, prizes, and the laughter and conversations of people getting together for no other reason than to be together celebrating community. After this I rushed up to the Massey Theatre for the launch of the 20th(!) annual Cultural Crawl where artists and art lovers from across the region gathered to support one another and showcase the talent in our community, and our MLA spoke eloquently about the importance of art in bringing community together at the toughest times.

There was no being grumpy after this.

One year in, we have a lot of work to do, but we have also done a lot of good work. We face challenges in our community, in the province, around the world, but we have made progress on many fronts, and can see the path forward to a community where more of our residents can thrive and live their best life. We need optimism and hope to do that work.

So I’ll close by thanking you for the work you do in your own community (however you define that) to make it stronger. It might be taking the time to be a good parent, it might be attending yet another strata meeting to talk building envelope. It might be supporting a local business or helping with a charity, or doing your little bit to make a community event happen next year. Thanks for being part of the great fabric of New West.

Motions and eMobility

I mentioned in my last Council report that I was going to follow up on the discussion Council had about speed limits on sidewalks. This one is going to be a little more editorial than a usual council report so I’ll start with a repeat of the caveat I have attached to previous blogs: everything you read here is written by me and not Official City Communications. I have no editor (isn’t that obvious?) and nothing here constitutes the official policy or positions of the City, of Council, or of any other person. If you disagree with me, that’s fine. No hard feelings.

The motion that came to Council, in its entirety, was this:

WHEREAS the City of New Westminster has been lowering speed limits on roadways to help increase public safety and reduce injuries; and
WHEREAS these speed limits do not apply on sidewalks and pedestrian safety is a top priority for the City of New Westminster; and
WHEREAS non-insured electric motorized scooters and other similar modes of transportation using our sidewalks can reach high speeds; and
WHEREAS an impact between a pedestrian and high speed motorized mode of transportation can cause severe injuries;
BE IT RESOLVED THAT staff report back to Council regarding the operational and budget considerations pertaining to the implementation of a by-law that would impose speed limits on our sidewalks to help reduce the risk of pedestrian injuries.

The ask seems simple – a speed limit on sidewalks. But governance isn’t simple. Or more precisely, the simplest bits of governance have been taken care of, and what is left for us work out are the complicated bits around the edge. It’s not really clear where is this motion coming from other than an anecdotal conversation, nor is the actual expected outcome. I ask curious folks to watch the video of the conversation Council as there may be a few answers in those exchanges that I missed. And of course, the video evidence is a less biased retelling than what I will inevitably write here.

Let me first set the context, and provide the Coles Notes of the homework that ideally should have come before this motion came to Council.

The City has a Street and Traffic Bylaw. It clearly defines E-bikes (based on the Provincial Motor Vehicle Act definition of motor-assist cycles) as bicycles. If you are on a provincially-regulated E-bike, you are protected as, and have the responsibilities of, a cyclist. There is also a clear definition of Mobility Devices, which are “scooters” and motorized wheelchair type devices used to give mobility options to people with disabilities, and those are clearly regulated as “pedestrians”. That is, if you are in a motorized wheelchair, you are protected as, and have the responsibilities of, a pedestrian. All other devices with wheels fall under these clauses:

6.19 A person on inline roller blades, roller skates, skateboards, longboards or other similar means of transportation must not operate such conveyance:
6.19.2 while on a Sidewalk, footpath, walkway or Multi-Use Pathway without due care and attention or without reasonable consideration for other persons using the Sidewalk, footpath, walkway or Multi-Use Pathway.
6.21 A person on inline roller blades, roller skates, skateboards, longboards or other similar means of transportation, shall ride in such a way that it will not interfere with a Pedestrian lawfully on or using a Sidewalk, footpath or walkway

Now, none of this mentions motorized devices, though it is easy to interpret that kick scooters fit under this and are thus regulated, or that they are not mentioned, and are therefore completely illegal.

Of note, this has nothing to do with roads. This only regulates sidewalks and multi-use paths. The provincial Motor Vehicle Act regulates what can be on our roads, and these devices are clearly illegal unless part of the Provincial Electric Kick Scooter Program, where they are made illegal on sidewalks unless specifically permitted by local community Bylaws, which must also provide protections to pedestrians. The on-street speed limit provided by that program is 24km/h, which is less than the 30km/h that E-bikes are permitted, but still significantly faster than even the fastest walkers (Evan Dunfee’s average speed in winning a Bronze Medal in Tokyo for Olympic Speedwalking was 13km/h). So e-scooters are not legal on New Westminster streets, and on sidewalks the Streets and Traffic Bylaw already gives a method for Police and Bylaw Officers to regulate their safe use, without adding yet another arbitrary and more difficult to enforce speed limit.

My point is, this is a complicated situation, not a simple one. There is already a complex regulatory environment. That is why the City is already taking a good governance approach to it. The City adopted an e-Mobility Strategy last year after extensive community consultation. Included in that strategy are some specific actions (edited here for brevity):

Develop an education campaign for safe use and benefits of eMicromobility: The City will develop educational resources on the benefits and correct use of eMicromobility modes consistent with guidelines and messaging used by neighbouring municipalities, TransLink, and Metro Vancouver.

Advocate for changes to the Motor Vehicle Act to provide clear guidance on eMicromobility: Some eMicromobility devices, such as e-scooters, are currently illegal to operate in the province, except where there is an escooter pilot project underway. Therefore, the MVA should be updated to provide clear guidance to support and regulate safe eMicromobility use. The City will advocate, to update the MVA accordingly.

Collaborate to develop clear regionally consistent safety guidelines and requirements for eMicromobility: The City will collaborate with neighbouring municipalities, TransLink, Metro Vancouver, and Province to develop consistent guidance on where eMicromobility devices are permitted, and to develop regulations such as establishing maximum speeds to support safe use [including] regulating modes by their maximum speed and weight.

Monitor e-scooter pilot programs and assess opportunities for New Westminster: The City will prepare to integrate e-scooter use into its existing transportation corridors when provincial guidance comes into place [and] monitor provincial regulations, outcomes and lessons learned from the e-scooter pilot in the province and other jurisdictions [and] leverage these learnings to develop educational materials and guidelines to ensure e-scooters can be used safely

So there is already a plan to address in a more comprehensive way the education and regulation aspects of eMobility in the community, but it will have to be informed by other actions happening at the provincial and regional levels.

Does this sound like we are moving too slow, because of the imminent threat being posed to pedestrians? I am going to suggest no, we are moving at an appropriate pace given the scale of the threat. These devices are new, and new things are immediately identified as threatening including concerning anecdotes, but do we actually know how big a threat speeding scooters are? There is no data from the BC CDC or ICBC on this, and the latest research I can find from the National Institutes of Health suggests they are annoying, but not a cause of significant trauma or death for non-users (though all studies seem to recommend separate infrastructure, like a AAA mobility network as the best solution to conflicts).

For more context, we had a debate a couple of weeks ago on exploring our Bylaw powers to protect people from dying in a heat dome, as 28 people in our community did 2 years ago, and several amendments were introduced by the mover of this motion to delay that process. Less urgency there, when the threat to vulnerable people is clear and demonstrated. A conversation in this Council meeting about intersection safety related to known actual real measureable risk in our community resulting in multiple deaths a year caused by an old familiar technology – cars – was somewhat waylaid by marginally-associated questions about e-scooters in what I can only interpret as some sort of rhetorical prep for this deliberation. No call for urgency there.

What was clear was a regional TV and Radio media campaign to call attention to the motion prior to Council even having an opportunity to deliberate about its strengths, weaknesses, or priority. Through all that, and through the subsequent discussion at Council, there is no evidence the proponent of the motion did any homework to understand the complexity of the existing local and provincial legislation, or the efforts the City is already undertaking to address e-mobility in a holistic way. I suppose those details are not important to the evening news byte.

In the end, Council added a component about Education and approved the motion, because it is specifically in line with existing staff work plans in the eMobility strategy. After all of the news and deliberation – there is nothing new here.